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Don't miss out: Book summer 2023 flights with award space to Asia, Europe and beyond

Sept. 01, 2022
15 min read
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With thousands of canceled flights and mediocre premium-award availability, summer travel in 2022 was not what many are accustomed to.

With some destinations, such as Japan and Hong Kong, still closed, many of us decided to go to other regions. Award space was incredibly scarce, especially in premium cabins on some of our favorite airlines.

With that being said, this is the perfect time to start booking summer 2023 travel. With an open mind and some flexibility, you could be well on your way to an unforgettable summer vacation. From Western Europe to East Asia, here are some of the best summer 2023 destinations with relatively open award space.

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Japan

ALLAN BAXTER/GETTY IMAGES

Naturally, I will start with my favorite country and the one I want to return to the most: Japan.

At the time of writing, Japan's borders remain closed to tourists not with tour groups. Japan reopened its borders to travelers on guided tours earlier this year, but it remains unknown when individual travelers will be able to enter the country to explore on their own. I remain optimistic that Japan will reopen its borders before next summer.

Next summer, premium-cabin award space to Tokyo is plentiful, primarily from major U.S. hubs like New York and Chicago. The best part is that there is plenty of Japan Airlines business-class award space!

Since JAL is part of Oneworld, you must search for award space with an alliance partner. One of the easiest ways to search for Oneworld award availability is through the American Airlines website.

As you can see, there are multiple days with award space from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK):

AA.COM

When searching AA's website, look for flights "Operated by Japan Airlines." This will ensure you are flying on a Japan Airlines aircraft.

AA.COM

There is also plenty of award space from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD):

AA.COM

Again, look for flights "Operated by Japan Airlines." You can book nearly 13 hours of bliss on Japan Airlines from Chicago to Tokyo's Haneda Airport (HND).

AA.COM

The best way to book these flights is by using American Airlines AAdvantage miles for your booking. For only 60,000 miles and $5.60 in taxes, you can book a nonstop one-way award to Tokyo! This remains one of the best uses of American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

As a side note, American divides Asia into three award regions: Asia Region 1, Asia Region 2 and South Pacific. Asia 1 covers Japan and Korea, meaning you could travel to South Korea for the exact 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles if Japan's borders aren't open when you want to travel.

You can also redeem 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles for the same ticket. If you need to top up your Alaska balance, the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card offers 70,000 bonus miles plus Alaska’s Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after spending $4,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.

Related: Getting a taste of Japan in JAL business class from Tokyo to Chicago

Germany

ALEXANDER SPATARI/GETTY IMAGES

If sushi isn't your thing, bratwurst might be. If that's the case, it doesn't get better than going to Germany to have it locally. Arguably even better? Flying Delta One nonstop to Berlin.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, a partner of Delta Air Lines, charges just 50,000 points one-way and $6.10 in taxes and fees for nonstop Delta business-class flights between the U.S. and Europe. This is an incredible sweet spot considering Delta charges upward of 210,000 Delta SkyMiles for a one-way flight to Europe in Delta One.

At the time of writing, you'll find widespread Delta One award space to Berlin in June and July:

VIRGINATLANTIC.COM

For a step-by-step guide on booking Delta awards through Virgin Atlantic, see this guide. You will want to look for flights "operated by Delta Air Lines." Unlike booking directly with Delta, you will need to find saver-level availability to book this through Virgin.

VIRGINATLANTIC.COM

Another great thing about Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is that it is a transfer partner of nearly every major transferable currency. American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards all transfer to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club at a 1:1 ratio.

If you need to add some Membership Rewards points to your current balance, here are some current welcome offers:

Related: The ultimate guide to Amex Membership Rewards

Spain

SYLVAIN SONNET/GETTY IMAGES

Home to some of the best food and wine in the world, Spain is another trendy destination.

With Spain being home to one of Oneworld's most valuable partners, Iberia, there are plenty of great options to get there. The mileage currency in the Iberia Plus loyalty program is called Avios (not to be confused with British Airways Avios).

Again, you will want to search for award space on Oneworld partners. I chose to start through the American Airlines website, as that is my personal "go-to" when looking for Oneworld award availability.

As you can see, there's plenty of availability from JFK to Madrid on American Airlines and Iberia. If you book your tickets with your AA miles, you will pay 57,500 miles and about $110 in taxes and fees one-way.

AA.COM

However, this is where Iberia Avios come into play. Generally, using Iberia Avios is the best way to get to Madrid using points. This is because of the attractive points costs and the minimal taxes and fees you’ll pay to get there.

While saver-level award space can sometimes be challenging to find, a one-way business-class ticket to Europe for only 50,000 miles (versus the 57,500 miles AA charges) is a great deal. For only 50,000 Iberia Avios and $110 in taxes and fees, you can get to Madrid nonstop from U.S cities like Boston, New York and Chicago.

I found decent availability in Iberia business class, primarily from JFK. As you can see, booking Iberia business class is attainable with points. Award availability tends to be good when booked in advance, and there are ways to minimize taxes and fees. There is also some decent availability to Madrid out of Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) and Dulles International Airport (IAD) near Washington, D.C.

IBERIA.COM

Lastly, suppose you were not interested in visiting Madrid (maybe because you have already been there). In that case, adding a connecting flight to a different European city is pretty simple, starting at 4,500 Avios one-way in economy class. Iberia allows for mixed-class award bookings online, so you can fly economy on short legs and save some Avios when booking transatlantic business-class awards through Madrid.

Earning Iberia Avios is simple as Iberia Plus is a transfer partner of many major transferable points programs. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards and Capital One miles to Iberia Plus at a 1:1 transfer ratio.

Additionally, if you have many Marriott Bonvoy points, you can transfer them at a 3:1 ratio to Iberia Plus. If you transfer 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to Iberia in a single transaction, you’ll get a bonus of 5,000 Avios on top of the 20,000 Avios you’d earn.

Related: Use Iberia Avios to manufacture your own cheap business-class fares to Europe

London

SYLVAIN SONNET/GETTY IMAGES

As someone who visits London almost every summer to see family, I thought it would be best to include London on this list. I searched for award availability and found plenty of award space in Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class.

Although you may be tempted to use your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points, there is a better way to book these seats. Virgin will charge you 47,5000 points and an outrageous $700-plus in taxes and fees. It is even worse from the West Coast.

VIRGINATLANTIC.COM
VIRGINATLANTIC.COM

Virgin Atlantic has hefty carrier-imposed surcharges, so while the mileage price is reasonable, the taxes and fees are too much for me to justify. Although Virgin Atlantic is not part of a major airline alliance, it has partnered with several other airlines. One of these partners is Air France.

The best way to book these Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seats is via Air France's frequent flyer program: Flying Blue. An Upper Class seat from New York to London costs only 68,500 points nonstop with $217.60 in taxes and fees through Flying Blue; this is roughly a quarter of the taxes and fees charged by Virgin Atlantic’s own loyalty program.

AIFRANCE.US

I found relatively good award space out of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Again, booking through Virgin will cost upward of $800 in taxes and fees one-way.

VIRGINATLANTIC.COM
VIRGINATLANTIC.COM

As mentioned above, booking through the Air France Flying Blue program is better. This way, you will save nearly $600 in taxes and fees at the cost of a few thousand extra miles.

Air France's Flying Blue is a transfer partner with many major transferable points programs. American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards all transfer to Flying Blue at a 1:1 ratio. You can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points at a 3:1 ratio.

Related: The best Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seats

Cancun, Mexico

MATTEO COLOMBO/GETTY IMAGES

Cancun has something for everyone, from nomadic backpackers on a budget to travelers looking for high-end luxury hotels and resorts. Even better, there are numerous options in terms of award tickets, as all three major U.S. carriers offer nonstop flights to Cancun.

With the vast number of award options available, I will break it down by what I believe are fantastic deals within each airline alliance (Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance). Although business class sounds like a great time, I do not use my hard-earned miles on short-haul flights, unless there is a sweet spot.

Oneworld

British Airways uses a distance-based award chart instead of a zone-based one. Short-haul flights from places like Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) start at 15,000 Avios round-trip in economy and 33,000 Avios round-trip in business class.

Generally, looking for direct flights rather than connections regarding Avios redemptions is best. This is because the Avios required for an award redemption depends on the total mileage flown (hence the "distance-based"). Although Atlanta and Orlando are within the range for the short-haul flights, they require connections as there are no Oneworld nonstop options from either airport.

GCMAP.COM
BRITISHAIRWAYS.COM
BRITISHAIRWAYS.COM

It is easy to earn British Airways Avios as the program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

SkyTeam

If you want to get down to Cancun via a SkyTeam partner, your best bet is with either Delta SkyMiles or Air France-KLM Flying Blue.

Both airlines price their award redemptions dynamically, meaning the points price varies depending on the ticket’s cash price. While this can be horrendous during peak-season travel, I found a lot of reasonable award space on Delta for next summer.

DELTA.COM

I also found a great deal, although it ends up being for the middle of May. For those specific dates, I found availability in Delta's Main Cabin for only 22,000 Delta SkyMiles round-trip.

DELTA.COM

If you’re low on SkyMiles, Delta is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and a 3:1 transfer partner of Marriott Bonvoy.

The other option is Flying Blue. Although the program also prices awards dynamically, it is significantly easier to earn Flying Blue miles since you can transfer points from all major transferable points programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One miles, Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

A final option for SkyTeam would be Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. Although Virgin Atlantic isn’t technically a member of SkyTeam, you can book Delta awards through Flying Club.

Virgin Atlantic's program recently changed to a distance-based award chart specifically for Delta flights. Most flights from the U.S. now cost between 7,500 and 15,000 points one-way in economy.

I was able to find numerous flights priced at 8,500 Virgin Atlantic points.

VIRGINATLANTIC.COM

Earning Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points is relatively simple as the program is a transfer partner of nearly every major transferable currency. American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards all transfer to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club at a 1:1 ratio.

Star Alliance

Arguably the best way to get to Cancun for most people around the U.S. is with United. However, the cheapest option would be to book those United-operated flights through Turkish Airlines' loyalty program: Turkish Miles & Smiles.

The program charges just 20,000 miles round-trip in economy or 30,000 miles in business class, no matter where in the U.S. you are flying from. You will need to find saver award availability on United's website to book, as using Turkish's online search engine is often very buggy.

To earn Turkish miles, you can transfer points from Bilt Rewards, Capital One or Citi ThankYou Rewards at a 1:1 transfer ratio.

Of course, you can also book directly through United MileagePlus as well. Still, since the airline doesn't publish an award chart anymore, it can be hard to know how many miles you will need to book a redemption without searching for availability. I was able to find decent availability starting at 17.5k miles one-way.

UNITED.COM

Related: Lots of good deals to Cancun

Bottom line

With everything that happened in summer 2022 travel, now is the perfect time to get ahead of your travel plans for summer 2023. Award availability is plentiful if you want to explore different European cultures, eat sushi in Japan or lie on a beach in the Riviera Maya.

Of course, award space changes as the days pass, so you're better off booking your summer vacation sooner rather than later.

Featured image by (Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases